Apologies for the intense lateness of this. Blame me for not EMailing Mike to fill in until around 7AM yesterday morning, and for not appropriately asking him to get in touch with AJ or Peter if he couldn't do the jorb.
Ignoring yesterday's extra inning loss, let's just quickly jump into what the Cubs are facing.
Friday, July 2nd - Bronson Arroyo vs. Ryan Dempster
Bronson Arroyo, who spends his spare time working on the set of Cheech and Chong movies, is a decent and reliable middling starter. He's again on pace for about 15 wins, which is pretty standard for him, and a mid 4's ERA, which is about his average.
He's facing Ryan Dempster today, a pitcher who's a lot better than his 6 wins. Unfortunately, Clownsevelt pitches for the Cubs... so he'll be lucky to finish the year with more than 10.
Saturday, July 3rd - Randy Wells vs. Johnny Cueto
Cueto is 24 years old. He's on pace to win 16, to strike out 150 to only 60 walks, and he's a pretty immense talent. Shame he pitches for Dusty Baker, who beats his pitching arm like it's a naughty schoolboy.
Cueto faces Randy Wells, who is quickly proving to be a one-year-wonder for the Cubs. Who knows -- maybe Randy will bounce back again someday from this mediocre season, but at present he's barely a 5th starter at the most.
Sunday, July 4th - Ted Lilly vs. Mike Leake
Man, those Reds and their young pitchers! Sunday's starter is Mike Leake, a guy who's 5-1 with a 3.30 ERA. Oh, and he's a 22-year-old rookie. Luckily for the Cubs, he pitches righty so they have a decent chance of beating him.
Ted Lilly, meanwhile, continues the swansong of his career in Chicago. Will Sunday be his final game in a Cubs uniform?
Blah blah blah, firesale, blah blah blah? Yadda yackity firesale soon?
Etc., Cubs suck, blerg, firesale, ergo yuck.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are 8-1 versus the Chicago Cubs this year. They are 17-49 versus the rest of the league. It's been that kind of season for the Pirates, and of course the Cubs as the Buccos come into Wrigley Field for this weekday set. The Cubs are coming home after losing 2 of 3 a few miles to the south of Wrigley (Hey! I predicted that!), while the Pirates have been struggling as well, even moreso than the Cubs. They've got losing streaks of 12 and 6 sandwiched around 2 wins in their last 20 games. The only real reason for optimism in Pittsburgh is that their penny-pinching ownership finally gave the green light to call up blue-chip prospect Pedro Alvarez. Despite being more than ready, and despite incumbent 3B Andy LaRoche sucking out loud this year, Alvarez stayed in AAA Indianapolis until there was no chance he could head to arbitration a year early and get a bigger contract that he, you know, actually earned. He's off to a slow start, but that will change as long as everyone's patient with him.
Monday - Paul Maholm (4-6, 4.24) vs. Randy Wells (3-6, 5.21)
It's time to stop sugarcoating it, Randy Wells has flat out not been good for the majority of this year. I'm not sure if it's a sophomore slump, or if the league now has a good book on his assortment of non-overwhelming stuff, or exactly what - but the results have been brutal this year. His last start in Seattle was no exception as he could never get going, and gave up 10 hits and 6 runs in 6 innings. Maholm was even worse in his last start. He gave up 7 hits and 5 runs in just 1 inning - a career low. Besides that blip, however, Maholm has been their best starter this year. The Cubs should be plenty familiar with him, as he beat the Cubs twice in 11 days in early May.
Tuesday - Jeff Karstens (2-2, 4.60) vs. Theodore Lilly (2-6, 3.28)
Karstens' picture would be in the baseball dictionary under the picture of "underwhelming back of the rotation righty" if such a dictionary actually existed. He's a former Yankees farmhand who's now 28, and really a "what you see is what you get" finished product. And what he is isn't all that exciting. Last time out he allowed 8 runs in 5 1/3 innings of work against Texas. Lilly gave the Cubs 6 solid innings last Thursday against the Mariners, but didnt figure in the decision as that game went 13 innings before the Cubs were able to eke one out. With the Cubs being dreadful, the rumor mill has started to grumble where Lilly is concerned, and there are reports circulating that the Mets might be interested in the Free Agent to-be.
Wednesday - Brad Lincoln (0-2, 6.00) vs. Tom Gorzellany (2-5, 3.41)
The matinee on Wednesday will be an interesting pitching matchup. Lincoln was drafted 4th overall in the 2006 MLB draft and promptly got hurt. He needed Tommy John surgery, which wiped out his entire 2007 season. He was drafted 3 spots before Clayton Kershaw, 6 spots in front of Tim Lincecum, and also in front of Tyler Colvin, the Cubs first round pick that season. He finally made his big league debut this year, and will be making his 5th MLB start against the Cubs. He's had 2 awful starts and 2 just "OK" ones thus far. Hard to say what he'll do on Wednesday - maybe he'll go ahead and throw a no-hitter. Gorzo will be making his first start since May 26th, filling in for the now "restricted" Carlos Zambrano. Honestly - I'd rather see Gorzo pitch than Z right now. I'm sick of Zambrano, I'm sick of his antics and I wish he'd just go the fuck away for a while. And this is coming from one of Z's biggest fans over the past 8 years.
So..if you're like me and still holding out some hope that the Cubs can get their shit together and make a little run - this series would be a nice spot to start. We owe these guys, and we need a sweep. As miserable as we've been (and we've been awful), we're still just 8 1/2 games out. We're not out of the race. Let's get the sweep.
The Pale Hosers come into this series having won 9 in a row. They just dispatched the formerly red-hot Atlanta Braves three games to none, so while the first few wins came against awful teams (like Pittsburgh – who the Cubs can’t beat), the last 3 wins were no joke. While the offense for the White Sox still probably isn’t good enough, the pitching sure has been. They’ve allowed 12 runs in the last 6 games. Also – the Cubs can’t score any runs. This could be a recipe for disaster. As bad as this season’s been for the Northsiders, I sure don’t know if I can handle a sweep at the hands of the White Sox. We’ll have to see what happens. On to the pitching matchups.
Friday June 25th: Carlos Zambrano (3-5, 5.10) vs. Jake Peavy (6-5, 5.07)
In 2008, this would have been a matchup of two of the best pitchers the NL had to offer. This afternoon, it’s a matchup of two overpaid guys with bloated ERA’s over 5. To be fair – both have been pitching much better of late, especially in their last starts. On Sunday, Z went 7 strong, allowing 8 hits, more importantly only walking 1, in getting the victory. The game was a laugher, a 12-1 win, the last time the Cubs scored more than 3 runs – and Z could have got the win even if he’d pitched poorly. It was good to see him bear down, and pitch like the Zambrano we gave the big extension too. Peavy had an absolutely disastrous start to the 2010 season. His last time out he fired a 3-hit shutout against the Nationals. Apparently his fastball had more life in that game, and his stuff is hands down better now than it was 6 weeks ago. If that continues, he’s gonna beat the Cubs today.
Saturday June 26th: Carlos Silva (8-2, 3.01) vs. Freddy Garcia (8-3, 4.85)
Silva got his start pushed back a couple days due to injury, so he gets matched up tomorrow evening against Sweaty Freddy..an exciting matchup over beefy Venezuelans who 12 months ago were thought to be completely washed up. Now both of them have 8 wins and are doing a solid job of holding down spots in pretty decent rotations. This baseball, it’s a crazy game, huh? Silva was supposed to start against his former teammates in Seattle, but the injury that knocked him out of his last start against the Angels got him pushed back. Last time out, Garcia gave up 3 runs in 7 innings. In his last 5 starts, Garcia has failed to go at least 7 innings only once. This will be the Cubs best chance at a W, if Silva’s healthy and effective after the hamsting issues.
Sunday June 27th: Ryan Dempster (5-6, 3.56) vs. John Danks (7-5, 3.23)
Dempster had one bad inning in Seattle, allowing a 2-run homer to Franklin Gutierrez, and that was it – but it was enough in a 2-0 Cubs loss. Dempster’s been solid all year for the Cubs, and he’ll need to continue that on Sunday against the lefty Danks, who’s been real good for the Pale Hose in 2010, lightyears better than he was last season. He’s allowed just 6 HR in 14 starts and his WHIP is a tidy 1.17. He beat the Braves on Tuesday in his last start. We’ll need a combination of good pitching and hitting to beat Danks.
I’m feelin the Cubs dropping 2 of 3 here. Picking us to win Saturday is the easy call…so I’ll say Z comes up big today, and we snap the Sox’ winning streak at 9, but then drop the 2 weekend games. You guys feelin the love?
The Cubs come into Seattle fresh off a 3-game weekend set against the Halos that truly was a microcosm of how this season's gone. We lost a game where a rally fell frustratingly short, we lost a game where absolutely nothing went right and we couldn't get a hit, and then we won a game where we looked like absolute world-beaters...the pitching was great, the hitting was red-hot..and it was one giant tease. That is precisely why I expect us to go out to the Emerald City and take at least 2 of 3, if not both..because, well, that's what the Cubs do. They tease and frustrate.
Plus, this Mariners team is an absolutely awful one. They've already driven out franchise icon Ken Griffey Jr this year, and absolutely are not scoring enough runs. They've got some good pitchers in King Felix, Cliff Lee (who they're trying to trade), the currently injured Doug Fister, and tonight's starter Jason Vargas. And that's before you mention their pen, which has been pretty good. But oh, the offense. The Mariners have 8 guys on their roster with over 100 AB, and only 3 have OPS's over .700 (Ichiro, CF Franklin Gutierrez, and IF Josh Wilson). Their 235 runs rank 28th in baseball.
Therefore it stands to reason that if the Cubbies pitch well, we should see some crisply-played, well pitched games. We'll see if that's the case. Onto the pitching matchups...
Tuesday June 22nd: Ryan Dempster (5-5, 3.67) vs. Jason Vargas (5-2, 2.88)
Demp got his 5th win of the season last week against Oakland to even his season mark. He's been pitching pretty well, going deep in damn near every game, and being consistent for the most part. He's making good money - but earning it in my book. He'll be opposed by Vargas. He's a career journeyman who has managed to get a 4-leaf clover up his ass this year and has turned in good numbers over his 13 starts. He's on his 3rd big league team already at the ripe age of 27, and he's making a case to become a part of the M's future. He's a lefty, and he's been absolutely brutal against other lefties this year, so i'd look for Nady in RF tonight.
Wednesday June 23rd: Randy Wells (3-5, 5.10) vs. Cliff Lee (5-3, 2.55)
The Mariners have the overwhelming pitching advantage here, as Wells has scuffled the better part of the last month-plus (tho he pitched well against Oakland on Thursday), and Cliff Lee has been excellent since his season debut in early May. Lee started on Friday against Cincinnati, and got the win in a 1-0 game. Look at that M's offense supporting him! As mentioned, his name has been thrown about in trade talks, so Mariners fans have to wonder everytime he starts from here on out - "is this the last start for Cliff in our uniform?"
Thursday June 24th: Carlos Silva (8-2, 3.02) vs. Felix Hernandez (5-5, 3.39)
Felix Hernandez has a pedestrian record (due to his team's struggles), but he's far from a pedestrian pitcher. He's quite simply one of the best pitchers in the AL - and a piece that Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik refuses to trade. That's probably a good stance to take. The fact that he's pitching isn't the only reason to look forward to Thursday's matinee - it also marks the return of Silva the Hut to Seattle - where he terrorized Mariners fans in 2008 and 2009. That should make for interesting baseball.
Oh and I hear a former Cub from last year will be playing in this series too. Good for him. That's all I want to say about him, and I don't want to hear the same tired stories re-hashed. Just win some damned baseball games.
Keep the faith.
The incredibly exciting interleague baseball season continues today, as the California Angels of Los Anaheimgeles head to Wrigley to take on the Cubs. The Angels are 5 games over .500; the Cubs are 6 games under. The Angels are a team built on years of superior general managerialship, the Cubs aren't.
But what they do have in common is this: the Angels have scored 12 fewer runs than they've allowed, while the Cubs have scored 13 fewer runs than theyv'e allowed. This doesn't make Chicago good, it just means that Anahengelesim (Calosiforniangeleheim?) probably shouldn't be a winning team right now.
Still, the Cubs are 6-8 since the start of June, and this is the part where I really, really man up.
Every year, with every slow start -- and lord knows we see a lot of them, even in the playoff seasons -- I say the same thing: have patience, let's see where they are in two months, don't panic.
Well, folks, it's been two months. The Cubs are 6 games under .500, Derrek Lee left his talent back in 2009*, Aramis Ramirez has left us yearning for the Vance Law years, and through only some fault of his own Carlos Zambrano is a 2-5 pitcher. In other words, two months after a slow start with problematic players and troubled fundamentals, the curtain has been pulled back and the Cubs are now revealed to be ... a really, really shitty ballteam. We're talking 78 wins at best.
(*.228 AVG, D-Lee? Really?)
The worst part about it, though, is that some guys have been insanely good. And there's nothing more disgusting than having unexpected players put up amazing, career years, only for them to be wasted. Marlon Byrd is batting .328 with 9 homers and a .902 OPS. Even Lil' Mike Fontenot is batting .293 right now. Carlos Silva is 8-1 with a .289 ERA. Carlos Marmol could turn his back to the plate and fire his pitches from between his legs like an NFL center, and he'd still be striking out an assload of players.
So why, then, why must these great performances be wasted on a team that won't win 80 games? As much as it hurts me to say this, the clear choice here is that some, if not many of these talents need to be dealt this and next month. It's time to start looking ahead toward the Next Great Purge. So, Cub fans, say farewell to Ted Lilly, Derrek Lee, Mike Fontenot, Kosuke Fukudome, the rest while you still can. Some of these guys will make it to October, but most will be watching the leaves turn colors in a new city.
But I digress. Onward with the preview!
Friday, June 18 - Carlos Silva (8-1, 2.89 ERA) vs. Scott Kazmir (6-5, 5.27 ERA)
Carlos Silva is on pace to win more games in 2010 than he won from 2007-2009 combined. Can you imagine what these Cubs would be like if he wasn't pitching for them? Holy hell! At the moment, he looks like he's going to toss around 190 innings, walking 34 -- 34!! that's Maddux territory! -- and striking out 130. Keep in mind that he has never, ever struck out more than 89 in a season.
Not to mention he's from the same hometown as me -- Bolivar. Granted, mine was a Bolivar located in the US. Still, he and I clearly have a lot in common -- from our wide girths to our obsession with impeccable control, not to mention our shared inability to strike out major league hitters ... yep, Carlos reminds me of me.
Scott Kazmir is a former Ray with recurring arm problems and ungodly talent. Sounds like he should've been a Cub. Kaz has only ever thrown 200 innings once in his career, and he has struggled in '10 with pretty much everything -- control, movement, his addiction to viagara, you name it. Although the Cubs tend to melt like a 12-year-old girl at a Jonas Bros. concert whenever they face a new lefty, they should have a shot.
Saturday, June 19th - Ted Lilly (2-5, 2.90 ERA) vs. Jered Weaver (6-3, 3.29 ERA)
Have you seen a picture of Jered Weaver? No? Check it out -- the guy's a douchebag. I don't know if it's his mullet, or the hint of a soulpatch that he wears on his chin, or that "who farted, y'all" expression on his face, but Weaver puts the "douche" in "douchebag." And yet ... he's 27 years old, has a career 3.67 ERA, won 16 games last year, and is on pace to strike out more than 200 players this season. The concensus, then, is this: the Cubs need more douchebags like Jered Weaver on their team.
His opponent is the Iceman, Ted Lilly, known also as "the best free agent singing the Cubs have ever had." When Lilly's not at Celebrity Impersonation Conventions in his Ghost Busters costume, he stays busy by kicking some serious baseball ass. Yes, I write this despite the fact that he's 2-5 and will be lucky to pitch 5 more games in a Cubs uniform. But fresh off his failed no-hit bid, if any unlucky Cub can defeat the steaming pile of douchocity that is Jered Weaver, it's Theodore Roosevelt Lilly.
Sunday, June 20th - Carlos Zambrano (2-5, 5.66 ERA) vs. Joe Saunders, 5-7, 4.70 ERA
I wonder if there's an unwritten rule somewhere about how the most talented Cub pitchers must fly too close to the sun at some point in their career. Zambrano is just the last example of that -- after Kerry Wood 20K'd his arm into oblivion, and Mark Prior made the National League his bitch for a season (right up until his arm said, "oh no no, it is you who are the bitch!"), should we have been surprised by the Big Moose's catastrophic downturn following his no-hitter?
I love the guy. You know it, I know it, even he knows it. But at this point, I'm on the cusp of hitting a terminal level on the Frustration Saturation Scale. Unless Carlos shocks us all and has the best three months of his career -- or even three above average months -- I think I'll be a little too sad and frustrated to want to see him in a Cubs uniform anymore. It'll just remind me of yet another disappointment.
But, hey -- if Carlos is going to pummel anybody, it's Joe Saunders. He's the Jan Brady of the Angels staff, a guy of midling talent who can't get it together. Dude's got 37 walks and 38 strikeouts, for Chrissakes!
At this point, I think I would rather get caught in a riot at the G20 than watch a Cubs game in person this year. They are painful. But if ever they were going to beat a team with a winning record at home, it would be this team, the Angels. Los Canaheiliforniam have a puff-pastry record, they're tapping two of their worst starters, and the Cubs -- *snicker * -- are more than due.
So, c'mon, win already!
I've got to admit it, I like Interleague play. I like when we have series like this one, where teams you don't normally see come into Wrigley for a few games. I went to Cubs/Blue Jays game a couple years ago, and it felt special. It was a bad Blue Jays team, but hey, they don't show up at Wrigley often! So I have to say, even though the Cubs are brutal, I'm excited for this series. Cubs and A's. The 2 teams I liked when I was young. In fairness I only liked Oakland b/c of the Bash Brothers and because I was like 8 years old at the time. I grew out of that phase, and quick.
Oakland, after spending time early in the season at the top, or near the top of their division, has scuffled of late, losing their last 3 against their rivals across the Bay, the San Francisco Giants. They're still just 4 out at the start of play today, and are obviously still putting themselves as in the race, as they acquired Arizona 1B/OF Conor Jackson today. One has to figure he'll be an option in LF for A's manager Bob Geren. Late word out of Chicago has Jackson available tonight, even though he's not starting.
*Tonight: Big Z (2-4, 6.05) vs. Trevor Cahill (5-2, 2.91)
Cahill's one of Oakland's good young pitchers, and he's had QS his last 6 times out. He's a righty, and I feel like we're gonna struggle against him. Z is Z. This year - ya just don't know what we're gonna get out of him. I can't imagine we win tonight. And why are we insistant on starting Koyie Hill every night?
*Tomorrow: Demp (4-5, 3.74) vs. Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.79)
Demp's been a HR machine this year - allowing 13 bombs in 13 starts. Good news for him, the A's aren't much of a HR team. Maybe he'll get lucky and the win will be blowing in tomorrow night. Gio will be making his first start against the Cubs. He's been pretty good this year, though his command has been a bit wobbly (roughly 4 BB/9). He had a tough go of it last Friday night against the Giants as well.
*Thursday: First Inning Randy Wells (3-5, 5.15) vs. Dallas Braden (4-6, 3.95)
Interesting matchup here. I personally think Wells is pitching for his rotation slot on Thursday. If he flops again, there's a chance the team options him to Iowa, and someone else gets a turn. I'd assume that guy would be Gorzo, but Jay Jackson at AAA Iowa is an interesting option. Honestly, it should be Cashner, but we're all about taking our best starting pitching prospect and putting him in the pen, baby! Great job Cubs! Idiots. Braden's best known for his love of the 2-oh-9 and his perfect game earlier this year..but he's been up and down all year. I know - he's on my fantasy team. By the time he starts Thursday, he'll be at 8 days between starts due to some left arm soreness, so it'll be worth watching to see if that continues. He's allowed 11 hits in 2 of his last 3 starts, so this could be a high scoring affair. Here's to hoping Wells figures his shit out. I like the kid, honestly.
What conclusions can you have other than we need to win some damn games? I dont care how, just win some damn games. Score some runs, don't act like assholes in the field and give those runs away, and be better than those guys in green. Not hard.
Go Cubbies. Keep the faith
As a former resident of Milwaukee, I came to really enjoy when the Cubs play the Brewers (or at play in Miller Park). Brewers fans are like a more naive version of Cubs fans with even shorter fuses and tolerence for their players (See: Corey Hart, Mat Gamel, JJ Hardy, anyone that's ever pitched there not named CC Sabbathia). At 5-1 on the season against the Brewers so far, apparently the Cubs really like playing Milwaukee as well.
The Brewers have been struggling a lot this year, even when compared to our ballclub. Outside of their ace, Gallardo, the pitching staff lacks an identity. The team just dumped Jeff Suppan (about 2 years too late...). The bullpen is even worse, with future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman unable to nail a game down they Crew has turned their hopes to journeyman John Axford to close out games. The Cubs hope to continue these woes and get themselves back on track as well.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010: Ted Lilly (1-5, 3.61) vs. Yovani Gallardo (6-2, 2.64)
Whenever I think of Yovani Gallardo, all I can think of is the billboard of him near my old place telling me in Spanish to get my swine flu vaccination. He may not have swine flu, but he is pitching like he's got something lately. Over his last 10 starts, Gallardo has gone 6-0 with a 1.86 ERA. Much of this success can be attributed to the fact he is walking fewer batters and staying in the zone. Gallardo really is an "ace" with good stuff so long as he can control it. The best way to get at him is by forcing him to come out of the stretch with men on base and by working the count in order to get his pitch count up (and hopefully, him out of the game earlier)
Lilly has been pretty good lately as well, producing five straight quality starts. His last outing against the Pirates seemed to be smooth sailing until he was bit by a Neil Walker home run in the eighth inning and handed the loss. Regardless, Lilly has looked better and better in each successive start. I expect to see more of the same out of him in Milwaukee.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010: Carlos Zambrano (1-4, 6.14) vs. Randy Wolf (4-5, 4.66)
The Wolf Pack has really been off his game this season. Most of the struggles he has stems from the fact that his walk rate is much higher this year. Despite only issuing 1.7 free passes a game last year, he has walked at least four batters in three of his last four starts. While most teams would see a pitcher like Wolf and pounce on the opportunity to face him at this juncture, the crafty lefty is one of those guys that always seems to give Cubs hitters fits. Hopefully Jaramillo preaches patience Wednesday night.
Big Z likes to pitch in Milwaukee. Hopefully he can continue his success in the ballpark in his second start since coming out of his bullpen role. I personally think there are going to be some growing pains, just as there were with Lilly coming back, but that Z will get a little bit better each start. I guess we will see if my prediction is correct on Wednesday.
Thursday, June 10, 2010: Ryan Dempster (4-5, 3.76) vs. Dave Bush (1-5, 4.97)
Dave Bush makes me smile when I see him as a probable. He was taken out of the rotation last week, and then put back in it this week after the Suppan DFA. When I think of Bush, I think of the home run ball. I think someone is going to win $1000 from the back to back jacks game on Thursday. Just a prediction.
Dempster is coming off a quality start and some actual run support that finally let him get a W. It seems that the home run ball is also back to being relevant for Ryan, so it will be key for him to avoid walks during the game. Honestly, this game has the makings of a home run derby 10-9 type game.
I think the Cubs take 2/3. I like our pitching over theirs, and their pitching is "good" enough to let us run into a few runs.
The Cubs' 2010 season is currently at a crossroads. They are 6.5 games back of two teams and on the precipise of falling out of the race. Without further ado. Here is a preview of a series that the Cubs should win handily. Of course ,we all know how that has gone this year:
Friday June 4: Carlos Zambrano vs Felipe Paulino
This game marks the triumfant return of Carlos Zambrano. Instead of getting the hapless Pirates (who someone turn into the 1927 Yankees when they play the Cubs), he gets the hapless Astros. In case you didn't know, the Astros are last in almost every relavent offensive category. They have the lowest OBP, the lowest OPS, the lowest SLG, the lowest wOBA and the fewest runs scored in all of baseball. Of course, the Pirates aren't much better and we know how that faired. Still you have to like Zambrano's chances. Z has pitched much better than his putrid ERA and quite frankly I expect him to take the move to the bullpen personally and have one of the best months of his life.
As for Paulino. I'd say he doesn't really need his outfield. He K's a decent amount, walks a bunch also and gets a fair number of grounders. He is coming off of 3 straight quality starts and his last time out, he went 8 scoreless against Dusty's Juggernaut, the Reds. He is beatable, as long as the Cubs wait him out.
Saturday June 5: Carlos Silva vs Roy Oswalt
Is this the meltdown we have all been expecting from Silva? I sort of doubt it but as bad as the Astros are, Oswalt is one tough customer. I know it may be hard for some people to believe but Oswalt is suddenly very underrated. His K rate is higher this year than at any point since his rookie season. His actual ERA is great and it's backed up strongly by the peripherals. Even on a terrible baseball team, Oswalt could be a Cy Young candidate this year. He is supposedly on the trading block and givin his salary, etc, it seems doubtful that he will be dealt but he is one of the better pitchers in baseball and is not to be underestimated.
Sunday June 6: Ryan Dempster vs Bret Myers
If the Brewers offense had the Astros pitching, it would be a pretty fantastic team. Dempster is probably a slightly better pitcher so I expect to win this game. Is it too much to hope that the Cubs bullpen doesn't give any games away here?
I am probably the only writer at this site who is not willing to give up on this team all the way until at least the end of June but I do acknowledge that a sweep in this series is almost necessary. This team needs to start winning soon and not stop if they have any chance this season.
If you are superstitious, then I'm to blame for the way the Cubs been mangled by the Pirates so far this year. I wrote at the beginning of their first meet-up about how the Cubs owe so much to the Pirates for their winning ways in the past few seasons. (And it's true -- the Cubs wouldn't have even remotely been a .500 team last year were it not for Pittsburgh taking it for our team)
Maybe the great karmic wheel noticed too, because Pittsburgh has PWN'd the Cubs all year long. So far, in 6 games, the Cubs are 1-5 against the Pirates, and have been outscored 35-17. 35 to 17! Chicago has its problems, sure, but they cannot possibly be that bad -- can they? Let's take a look at the matchups.
Monday, May 31st - Randy Wells vs. Ross Ohlendorf
Randy Wells, Randy Wells. He started the year looking like Greg Maddux. Now he looks more like Jeremi Gonzalez, pre-electrocution. Wells got smoked in his last start, lasting nary an inning against the Cardinals. But cheer up, Cub fans - the last time Wells faced the Pirates, he lasted 2 innings and gave up 6 earned runs - that's like half as many runs in twice as many innings!
Ross Ohlendorf, meanwhile, almost beat the Cubs in his last outing against them. He went 6 innings and gave up 2 runs, which is - so far - the best he's done this year.
Tuesday, June 1st - Ted Lilly vs. Jeff Karstens
Theodore Roosevelt Lilly is not trying very hard to get traded in this, the walk year of his contract. Since coming back from surgery, he's posted a respectable 3.63 ERA, but he's also lost 4 decisions in 7 starts. Ugh. Either he's as bad as his record, or he's as good as his ERA -- guess we'll find out soon.
Jeff Karstens is 27, he's 1-1 this year, and he's 10-18 in his career. He gives up lots of hits, a modest amount of walks, and if he manages to strike out more than a handful of Cubs then they're doing it wrong. If ever there was a game in which Lilly should dominate and the Cubs should explode offensively, it's this one.
Wednesday, June 2nd - Carlos Zambrano vs. Zach Duke
Carlos Zambrano? Scheduled to return to the rotation on Wednesday? Really?! Woo-hoo!
Not that he's got anything in the tank right now -- he's done nothing as a starter or a reliever to convince me that he's reliable. But sweet fancy Krishna, it's about time he returned to where he belongs. What a stupid experiment!
There was a time when Zach Duke was a promising young starter who owned the Cubs. Six years later, he's a run-of-the mill guy with moments of brilliance who's still only 27. It seemed back in the olden days that he was pretty much guaranteed a win against Chicago... it's not like that anymore, but the Cubs are 1 and freakin' 5 against these guys.
The Pirates remain the doormat of the National League, but the Cubs are playing as though they intend to give them some competition for that title in 2010. As Rob might point out, good teams beat teams like the Pirates. The Cubs haven't even come close to beating the Pirates this year. (Okay, fine, they won a game. Big freakin' deal.)
But as the Cubs have made certain moves -- promoting guys like Castro, DLing losers like Grabow, reclaiming projects like Howry -- then they are coming closer and closer to resembling the team we'll probably see for the last three months-or-so of the season. This is pretty much the time to start winning big. If they can't manhandle the Pirates, they might as well cancel Christmas and close the kitchen. 'Nuff said.
Since that day, the Cardinals have gone 9-13, the Cubs have gone 8-12, and fans at Wrigley don't have to be sober to see the glaring, throbbing, missed opportunity. However, Chicago has won 8 out of their last 11, and there appears to be a light at the end of their tunnel. Maybe. We'll get to that in a bit.
But what we should be focusing in on now is that total lack of invincibility of the Cardinals. That's right -- even Albert Pujols and his crew of HGHeroes (SteroidSidekicks?) are not unbeatable. Their early season lead was not insurmountable - just ask Dusty Baker* and the first place Reds.
(*Dusty Baker! In first place!!)
But what about the Cubs? Yes, they've been playing well enough for even the most cynical of us to feel brief tugs of admiration, but it very truly could be smoke and mirrors. Some of the hot-starters, like Kosuke Fukudome, Geovany Soto, and Starlin Castro, have begun to cool off. And at least one late-beginner, Aramis Ramirez, may be dangling precariously on the edge of never-would-be. Dude sucks.
Over in the pitching staff, Carlos Silva has continued to win. Sooner or later, the officials will forbid him from assembling his mirrors and smoke machine before each start, but until that time comes, holy hell what a good trade. The bullpen has also been looking a little better. Marmol, Marshall, and Russell have been pretty reliable. (And can you believe that Carlos Marmol has a 17.88 K/9 ratio right now? Dude, if a starting pitcher could do that and throw 210 innings, he'd finish the year with 417 SO's!)
So, the Cubs have just enough going for them to not be hopeless, but the hopeless they have (Rammy, Bullpen Pitchers 4-7) looks pretty bad. Still, imagine this: if the Cubs sweep the Cardinals this weekend, they will exit the series with a 26-25 record, while St. Louis would be 27-24. Considering that you know and I know the Reds are not going to be playoff bound, then that would put the Cubs within a game of the only team they actually have to worry about.
Let's look at how realistic it is that that could happen...
Friday, May 28th, 2010 - Randy Wells (3-2, 3.99 ERA) vs. Chris Carpenter (5-1, 3.09 ERA)
Remember the olden days, when Chris Carpenter was about as healthy as a New York City hooker? How I miss them! Carpenter has gotten stronger as '10 has moved along. His May ERA is 2.75, although in his last start he got kicked around like a tin can. I dare say he's due for a throttlin'.
Randy Wells, meanwhile, is a perfect example of the lil' pitcher without big stuff who makes the most of the few gifts God has given him. And since he took an ass-beating against the Pirates at the beginning of the month, those gifts have translated into a 2.74 ERA and zero wins. I dare say he is due to do some throttlin'!
Saturday, May 29th, 2010 - Carlos Silva (6-0, 3.52 ERA) vs. Adam Ottavino (0-0, -.-- ERA)
Silva has already won more games in 2010 than he did in 2009 and 2008 combined. He's basically a jalopy. Sure, drive him around town, and he'll get you to and from without much of a problem. But take him on a road trip somewhere and you will find yourself stranded on the side of the road, watching the better cars pass you by. Sooner or later, Silva's going to have his breakdown, but so far he's been absurdly fun to watch.
Ottavino -- Doctor Ottapuss to his friends -- is a right-handed starting pitcher making his big league debut tomorrow. He pitched outstandingly this Spring for St.Louis (a 2.38 ERA in 11.1 innings) but he's yet to throw a pitch in a game that matters. Last year, he went 7-12 in Triple A with a 4.75 ERA.
Sunday, May 30th, 2010 - Ryan Dempster (3-4, 3.31 ERA) vs. Adam Wainwright (6-3, 2.38 ERA)
Ryan Dempster has been the poster child of Hard Luck Losers in 2010. For his ERA, and his 1.03 WHIP, and his high strikeout rate, and everything else, Dempster should have at least as many wins as Silva. Instead, he's been beaten like a petulant child. But after eating 3 consecutive losses earlier this month, he dominated the Dodgers in his last outing and is poised to build on that win.
Wainwright, meanwhile, will always have a special place in my heart. I once had a heated debate with a moron Cub fan about Wainwright. I argued -- correctly, at the time -- that Rich Hill would have a better season than Adam, while Captain Idiot used Wainwright's clear superiority as yet another example as to why the 2007 Cubs would have no chance of winning in the division.
Long term, that dope was right. Hill was a flash in the pan, while Wainwright has grown into a successful, kick-ass young starter. Dude's already thrown 2 complete games in '10, and he's on an early pace to win 20. He'll be a tough hurdle for the Cubs to overcome on Sunday.
Earlier, I speculated that a sweep of the Cardinals would put the Cubs in a position to compete for the division lead. Saying it's a lot easier than doing it. The Cardinals are throwing two of their best pitchers at the Cubs. The Cubs are a struggling offense who have yet to do anything impressive against good pitching. Certainly, Chicago should win 1. Maybe even 2. But 3 is probably out of the question.